I woke up before the alarm went off Saturday morning. I had time to eat a tuna cup before heading out from camp. When I turned on the radio, the first thing I heard was Khaki saying “It’s 4:48, time for me to tell you… it’s fun to stay at the Y…M…C…A…” The party was going strong at the Hookadome when I rode past it and out to the Man. Big spotlights were up, illuminating the whole area. The perimeter around the Man was closed off late Friday night, and the structure was already getting prepped for the burn. I took a couple of pictures, then took off for Ranger HQ. When I got to the Esplanade, there were camps I didn't recognize. I followed the road around until it... ended. There was nothing but blank playa beyond. I'd gotten turned around at the Man and ended up way over at the Ten O'Clock road. Oops.

It was a long ride back across the playa to HQ. Stingray was there, and I said hi to Marker. When I checked in, they put me down as a dirt ranger that could be called on in case of a Green Dot situation. When assignments came up, Marker and I got sent out to the Man for perimeter duty. We got out there just before sunrise. We met up with Mr. Po and Sharkbite, who gifted me a beautiful glass dish. The trash fence was already up around the inner perimeter, and our job was to keep everybody out. A guy came up, upset that the Man was shut down, and said, "Could I come back this afternoon?" No, I said, it would still be closed. (I almost told him to come back the next day-- nobody would stop him then.) Sharkbite and I met a delightful girl called Anarchy, who stood close to me to get out of the chilly breeze. She wasn't exactly dressed for the early morning. Anarchy said she went to the Critical Tits parade, but it was held "on the far side of the moon," pointing out into deep playa. She said she was camped at the post office-- not the main one, the other one. She gave me a very nice kiss on the cheek when she left. I never saw her again.

I saw a woman in a colorful coat inside the perimeter taking photographs. Nobody was supposed to be inside the perimeter. With all the fencing around, I didn't know how she got in. I went up and asked, "May I help you?" which she found amusing. It turned out to be Crimson Rose, the Managing Art Director of Burning Man! I hoped my humiliation didn't show much. We talked about cameras for a couple of minutes. She had wondered why someone would be out there wearing a hard hat. (It was Ranger Marker.) At 8 AM, the pyrotechnic crew arrived, and everyone, Rangers included, had to get out.

I was put on perimeter at the 6 o'clock position. We had rangers surrounding the perimeter out there at all times. People still came by, even though it was closed up. I met a nce girl named Samantha, and a guy from Washington DC named Mike. He said that when DC was sit with the "snowpocalypse" that previous winter, he wqas stuck in his 600-square-foot apartment for days. I met a guy named Ed. "Just Ed," he said.
A girl on a fuzzy blue tricycle came by talking about cameras. It turned out she fixed cameras for a living. I showed her what was weong with my digital camera, and her advice was "get another camera." Getting it fixed would cost as much as the camera, she said. That was disappointing to hear. I really didn't like the idea of buying another camera. 

I spoke to Coffin, one of the pyrotechs. He said everything was on schedulefor the burn that night-- loading the combustibles, accelerants and explosives in the structure, but then he squinted against the white-out sandstorm conditions and said, "I hope people will be able to see it!" 

Ranger Wish was in charge of us all out at "the Stick." She gave us the chance to be rotated back into patrolling the city, but Marker and I decided to stay. 

While I was on station, a couple of people rolled a little cart up to the fence and started cooking bacon to give away to people. It was neat and generous, but then a half-naked, suntanned guy started harassing him about animal cruelty. (I never got the suntanned guy's name; in my mind I called him... Turdwaffel.) Turdwaffel wanted me to use my radio to call law enforcement so that he could have the bacon guy arrested for animal cruelty. He made a big fuss about it, too. When I wouldn't do it, Turdwaffel got aggravated with me, and took something I said in passing as a policy statement from the whole Ranger organization. He even got out a camera and videoed me without my permission. (His camera had no video tag, which every video camera on the playa was supposed to have-- his argument was that video wasn't really "photography") He got in everybody's face and made an annoying spectacle of himself. One lady listening to Turdwaffel's ranting commented, "You're really full of yourself, aren't you?" Another guy laughed at Turdwaffel, and jokingly said, "If you don't like meat, how about a knuckle sandwich?" before biking away. Turdwaffel got mad at me again for not calling the cops to report the guy on the bike for assault. His mousy, enabler girlfriend kept backing him up, making him appear almost reasonable. He swore he was going to use his video to embaress the whole Ranger organization, especially me. Turdwaffel read my handle off my lammie and wrote it down in a pocket notebook -- he said he was going to report me to Ranger Headquarters. I pointed him in the right direction across the playa to HQ. He finally went on his way, saying he was going to drop off an anti-meat CD for me at HQ... when he went there to get me fired.
When Turdwaffel left, the bacon guy gave me an extra piece of bacon "for putting up with that bullsh*t." When Ranger Wish came by to see how I was doing, I told her what happened, and she said, "Oh, for f*ck's sake!" When Ranger Deuce picked up me and Marker after our shift, he laughed it off and told me not to worry about it. The other Rangers laughed, too... but the incident left me disturbed; I kept thinking I could've rangered the whole thing better. I later wrote in my notebook, "It made me wonder if I deserved to be a Ranger." I think where I went wrong was trying to join in on any kind of conversation. After it was obvious I wasn't going to grant Turdwaffel's wishes, anything I said from then on was considered provocative to him. I became an adversary in his eyes. What I should have done was try to stay neutral and noncommittal, and just be an objective observer. It's likely he would've acted like a jerk anyway. I came to suspect that Turdwaffel never really video taped me at all, but just pretended to. (I mean, seriously, who says "fish eye lens" anymore?) In the long run, the only thing I was guilty of was keeping some cop from wasting his time taking a frivolous complaint from a selfish participant... and if I get in trouble for that, so be it.
When you hassle an unpaid volunteer who's just trying to do his job, you’re not being funny and you’re not being clever. You’re being a dick.
As I waited for the end of the shift, people dressed in Superman costumes started showing up at the trash fence, and by noon there were a hundred or more gathered together in the swirling dust. They said they were going for a world record for most people dressed as superheroes. A guy called Pixel drove up in a truck and delivered a big wooden box to the perimeter fence. The box was for combustible donations. I suggested it might not be a good idea to smoke so close to explosives, and he put out his cigarette. The wind just kept picking up, kicking more and more dust in the air.
Marker and I got back to HQ, and Deuce was about to reassign us when he found out we'd been on duty since 6 AM. "You're done!" he said-- but before we could leave, we got asked to help a couple of burners with a stuck art car. It had thrown a wheel and had been stuck beside the 5 O'Clock road for two days. We thought about getting a Ranger vehicle, picking up the art car trailer from their camp, and getting a bunch of guys to load it up, but then we spotted the Ranger tow truck parked beside HQ. We spoke with Sir Bill, who looked over the situation, and said the only way to tow it might mess up the axle. The participants decided to leave it stuck where it was and wait until after the event to move it. One of the participants was a veteran, and was walking around on prosthetic legs. He planned to skydive later that day!

I trudged back to HQ, clocked out of my shift, and went to the commissary for lunch: baked potatoes. I felt pretty baked myself by that point. We met Ranger Hogwallow, a football player from Chicago. Back at HOTD, I took a short nap in my tent, but it was just too hot in there. The wind just kept getting worse. I got a beer and sat in the bar catching up on my writing. The bar was full of folks listening to live music. Claudia was onstage, singing an original song about Mark's bacon, and Spoon falling onto the playa. A girl named Melanie got up to sing, and she was amazing, singing deep, soulful blues.

The wind kept blowing all day. Dust obscured everything more than 40 yards away. It looked like a hellacious night for a burn. "It's always like this," Mark said. "The wind blows and there's a white-out, but then the wind dies down and we have the burn." He took my picture while I was back in the kitchen tent. I wondered if there was a camp on the Esplanade where I could just sit and watch the burn. Back at my tent, I was filling up my canteen when I noticed Kim and Connie loading up their bikes-- they were leaving! They'd been out Friday night when it really got bad out and didn't want to face the burn. "We're chicken!" Kim laughed. She gave me a homemade postcard, and I promised to keep in touch.

As it got dark, the idea of stomping all the way out to the dusty playa to watch the burn became less and less appealing. I'd seen the Man burn up close before, and besides, the rash on my leg was really hurting me. Moving was agony. Then, I realized I could see the Man off in the distance from the bar. The prospect of watching the show from the comfort of camp became overwhelming. So, I settled back on a barstool and relaxed. Night fell, and the streets began to empty out. Traffic on the streets died down considerably. There were only three or so of us in the bar. Five blocks back from the Esplanade we could still hear the drums, the sounds of thousands of people out in the darkness.

When the fireworks show started, I couldn’t help myself. The lure of the flames was too great. I just had to get a closer look. I hurried down the 8 O’clock street to the Esplanade and walked out into the bare playa. The fireworks were amazing, and I got to see the first flames crawl up the tower.
I looked behind me, and it was as if a thick, black curtain was being drawn across the campsite. The wind had picked up again. A big wave of dust washed over me. Dust was everywhere. I pulled my goggles over my eyes and held my handkerchief to my mouth to breathe. I had my flashlight, but it showed only empty playa for 20 feet all around. It seemed like I was alone out there, though there could have been hundreds of people all around me in the darkness. Monstrous clouds of dust rolled over the landscape, obscuring everything, including the burning Man. The dust would make everything disappear, and then the conflagration would emerge from the dust, elemental, fierce and terrifying.
When the Man fell, it was like the entire tower structure was crushed by a giant invisible hand-- the whole thing came down in one, big, fiery crash. Thousands of people were out there in the dark, but I only heard the low moan of distant cheers…
Prologue Aug. 26  Aug. 27 Aug. 28 Aug. 29
Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday Monday
The Long Road Home  Epilogue
Original content (c)opyright 2010 by Tim Frayser
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